Peter Gilbert's excellent documentary, "With All Deliberate Speed," does more than simply mark the 50th anniversary of the landmark civil rights decision Brown vs. Board of Education. Rather than merely chronicling the events leading up to the May 17, 1954, Supreme Court decision that ordered the desegregation of public schools in the U.S., the film explores both its effect and ways in which it has fallen short in creating true equality.
The film takes its title from language included in the decision by Chief Justice Earl Warren on the advice of Justice Felix Frankfurter. The NAACP had requested that the desegregation be implemented rapidly, but due to the "considerable complexity" of the situation, Justice Warren decreed that the order be carried out "with all deliberate speed." Several states used the vague, almost oxymoronic nature of the phrase to avoid integrating their schools until the mid-1970s — 20 years after the fact.
Crisply edited by Carol Slatkin and Penny Trams and shot in vivid high-definition digital video, the documentary features contemporary and archival interviews with participants and their descendants, supplemented by dramatic readings, vintage photographs and film.
More pointedly, current students and educators are interviewed, and it is clear that in many areas de facto segregation still exists and schools in poor areas are in some ways no better off than they were 50 years earlier.
"With All Deliberate Speed." MPAA rating: Unrated. Suitable for all ages. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. Exclusively at the Landmark Regent, 1045 Broxton Ave., Westwood, (310) 281-8233.
'Confessions of a Burning Man'
The annual alternative culture festival Burning Man, staged for 10 days each year in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, is a miracle of duality, featuring equal parts chaos and organization, originality and commonality, humility and self-importance. The documentary "Confessions of a Burning Man," a vision of the event through the eyes of four first-time visitors, is endowed with many of the same qualities.
Filmmakers Paul Barnett and Unsu Lee follow the quartet as they enter the temporary community of 30,000 neo-bohemians. Samantha Weaver, a San Francisco actress, carves out a large labyrinth in the sand as she works through issues involving her feelings toward marriage and herself. Her friend, Anna Getty, of the Gettys, discovers a place where she can follow her bliss in relative anonymity. A jaded former cab driver from the Bay Area, Michael Winaker, seeks people more interesting than the dot-com drones he drove around Silicon Valley in the late '90s. Kevin Epps, an African American filmmaker, joins the group, apprehensively participating in an event he perceives to be overwhelmingly white.
The foursome experiences stunning images of both natural and man-made beauty as they struggle to make their own contributions to the festival. Neon and fire vie to color the nighttime sky, while during the day people practice yoga at dawn, then turn themselves into walking pieces of visual and/or performance art.
The film's strength is in its ability to bring the experience of Burning Man to its audience, evoking not only the heat, dust and fatigue, but the sheer awe of its enormousness and generosity of spirit. The four individuals' narratives, however, are not always that compelling and make for a film best experienced on a strictly sensory level. Let the images wash over you and enjoy.
"Confessions of a Burning Man." MPAA rating: Unrated. Nudity, language. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Fairfax Cinemas, 7907 Beverly Blvd., (323) 655-4010.
'With All Deliberate Speed'; 'Confessions of a Burning Man'
Civil rights and neo-bohemians are covered in two documentaries.
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